- by Pamela Caviness, Circle of Friends, Mom
It started the moment I hit the winding road, flanked with dense woods. The scenery was sloughing my worries and cares away. It felt good to be back. This place has a history of caring for and loving on the broken. The volunteers always tug on my heartstrings with their joy and desire to help. I couldn’t wait to meet them.
My children were greeted the moment we hit the door. Not only were they greeted, they got to call the shots! Some wanted lunch and one wanted to walk and explore. Cal took his sweet volunteer everywhere within the first hour. If she were counting steps, I feel certain she would’ve racked up a nice number!Circle of Friends has a schedule that works like a well oiled machine. Getting settled, swimming, a parent mixer and a movie screening are the big to do’s on the first day. If you’re a pro, you’ve taken a nap, read or fished, on top of the above mentioned. The first day feels a little like an ice breaker day. For many, it’s the only weekend each year that we all see one another. James knows how to get us out of our shells. He loves ridiculous games that make us look and act like fools. Laughter fills the halls of the Crain Center on Saturday nights at Circle of Friends. From jiggling like a bowl of jello, to designing and drawing the perfect prom dress, he pulls out all the stops.
As day one was winding down, I gathered my children and headed for the cabin. Oh, how I love time there. It is rustic in appearance, and has everything a family would need for a weekend away from home. The beds were made with fresh linens and adorned with towels for each camper. That is such a huge detail. With all the medical supplies that many must lug on a trip, not needing to pack those necessary items was a relief. Hours passed as my husband, children and I spent time reading and relaxing in the cabin. It was nothing short of glorious.
Sunday was filled to the brim with activities. Some of my favorite moments were visiting with a couple of the volunteers. Two of the young men were so transparent in their love for Christ and desire to serve. It was awe inspiring to hear how our precious volunteer, an engineering student, is working to create water purification for places in need. He was so gentle and positive with my youngest son. That is no small feat, as Connor becomes irritated easily. Our volunteer’s kind face and voice made it easy to redirect my little one. His boundless energy caused the days to fly! I was especially moved by his desire to see us off when it was time to depart.
Joe was one of the highlights of our weekend. What an exceptional young man to pour his time and energy out for us. Other volunteers were just as unique in their desire to give all they had while in attendance. One young man, Julian, shared with me that he was exhausted the first night. His heart was burdened with the truth that parents like myself are that tired 365 days a year. Joy was oozing from him as he spoke about being able to be a relief that weekend. He could not wait to return for another camp, and was eagerly awaiting more opportunities to serve Christ. It was refreshing to see such a young person be all in on that level. Not only did he encourage me, he stoked my own fire for staying in the center of God’s Will.
While I share stories of the two young men above, they are not the only ones that made an impression. Over and over I found myself moved by the love and attention I would observe the campers receiving. One of my favorite stories is of our fearless leader, James. It was zip line time and he had a nice sized crowd wanting to participate. He and several volunteers manned the various stations needed to fulfill such an adventure. I had been really psyched to go until I saw the pole I had to climb. Fear bordered on creeping in, but I pushed it out. For I’ve faced far worse on the exam table with my sweet son than climbing a silly pole. I told myself this and watched as others took their turn climbing, then flying away down the cable.
One sweet child captured my attention. She was excited, then nervous, then unsure. It was evident that those feelings were coming and going as she awaited her time to climb. Right as it was time to step up she decided she did not want to go. With the encouragement of the small group, her helper and James, she took her first step. Then another and another. Every step or so she would proclaim that she had changed her mind, but we all kept encouraging her, so she kept climbing. I should back up a bit and say that her dad was watching in the wings. He stayed far enough away, as to not influence the process. The sweet girl had finally reached the point that she would have to climb a little more gingerly to get to James. A spot that had caused me to rethink what I had gotten myself into when I was up there minutes before her. At this point fear was settling in and she was bordering on panic. James swiftly pulled her up to the platform. She was crying and wanting down to get to her father. He had looked to the father earlier and received the thumbs up to help her push through her fear.
To hear James speak to this precious child was indescribable. Tears fill my eyes as I write this. It was a mix of fatherly instruction and Christ’s overflowing love. He promised her that he would help her get to her daddy and that she needed to do one thing to get there. Then he helped her begin the joyous ride down the zip line. The number of tear filled eyes on the ground could not be counted. The beauty of watching her overcome something hard and scary, was beautiful. James’ Christlike love for her and all of the campers is crystal clear in every movement; every word uttered.
That zip line experience hit me at my core. Not just the precious young girl’s turn, but all of them. Again and again, he would reach his hand out and pull the climber to safety. Never wavering and always encouraging. The weekend ended for my little family a few hours later. My cabin mates and my crew took one last hike to the Chapel in the sky, then packed and loaded up to go home. My children and I left with sunburns, scrapes, bug bites and bruises. Proof of a weekend well spent living. Life looks different at home. More cautious movements are made, and time is not always kind when it comes to planning for fun. I have pride for the many marks left behind from the weekend. My favorite mark being the one imprinted on my heart.